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Brownshirt Princess

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Lionel Gossman

Part I. Seeking a New Religion: Gott in Mir

4. Appendix to Part I: The Völkisch Rejection of Christianity

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1Christianity – and especially its Jewish origin – was the target of many rebellious, avant-garde spirits, most of them inspired by Nietzsche, around the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The case of the Polish writer Stanislaw Przybysczewski can be taken as fairly typical. A well-known figure in Bohemian circles in Berlin, a friend of the painter Edvard Munch and the playwright August Strindberg, widely read in Germany and Scandinavia as well as in his native Poland, Przybysczewski led a wildly adventurous erotic life, dabbled in anthroposophy and occultism, flirted with socialism, and was a champion of both estheticism and sexual liberation. In number 32 (6 October 1910) of the avant-garde Berlin literary and artistic weekly Der Sturm [The Storm] – the organ of Herwarth Walden (a.k.a. Georg Lewin), the Russian-born Jewish art dealer, critic, and advocate of modern art, who was briefly married to the Jewish expressionist poetess Else Lasker-Schüler and who promoted the careers of many modern artists and writers (Kokoschka, Hermann-Neisse, René Schickele, Richard Dehmel) – Przybysczewski mounted a violent attack on Judaism. ”Judaism,” he declared in the lead article on the front page, appropriately entitled ”Das Geschlecht” [Sex],

”has debased sex and trampled it in the mire; it has castrated love. […] It has turned the sexual drive in itself into a crime and a disgusting sin, nakedness into something scandalous and shameful, and the sexual act itself into a filthy puddle teeming with horrifying vermin. Judaism has injected the beautiful human soul with a poison that continues to degrade humanity to this day; it is responsible for making beauty repulsive and vile. […] But from afar the rumbling of the turning tide can be heard; it is already beating here and there on the shore, and the day is drawing nigh when the soul will begin to cleanse itself from the garbage of Judaism and will celebrate its resurrection in beauty and in renewed glory of the senses. […] The highest ethics is that of the individual who knows how to transform everything into beauty, for only beauty, and beauty alone, can be ethical.”

  • 1 Ludwig Gurlitt, ”Der Fluch der toten Religion,” Die Aktion, 1/8 (10 April 1911), col. 233-235 (233 (...)
  • 2 Letter dated 18 September, 193, quoted in Arn Strohmeyer, ”Kunst im Zeichen der germanischen Vorfa (...)

2Born and raised as a Catholic, Przybysczewski probably found it easier to attack the repressive influence of Christianity by naming Judaism as the culprit, but there can be no doubt that the object of his wrath and scorn was Christianity, no less than Judaism. A year later in the pages of Franz Pfemfert’s radical, left-leaning, internationalist, and anti-militarist Die Aktion, Ludwig Gurlitt, a leader in the school reform movement of the time, published an article entitled ”Der Fluch der toten Religion” [The Curse of the Dead Religion], in which he lamented that an alien religion had been imposed on ”die Germanen” [Germanic men and women] and had sapped the innermost core of their nature.1 Roselius, the friend and publisher of the author of Gott in mir and the onetime patron of the future Communist Heinrich Vogeler, defended his creation, the Böttcherstraße in Bremen, and Hoetger’s expressionist Odin sculpture on the façade of the Haus Atlantis from Nazi criticism of them as ”degenerate,” by asserting a deep inner connection between the Germanic-Aryan Christ-figure and the modern Führer. ”I am not a religious leader,” he wrote to the National Socialist Mayor of Bremen, ”but I am a man who has deep roots in the homeland that bore him. […] I have never believed in a Jewish Christ, but only in an anti-Jewish Christ, who at that time did the same for the world […] as Hitler today. I hold therefore that the Old Testament has no place in the education of the German people. But if we no longer have the Old Testament as the basis for the Christian religion, then we need a German basis. Christ thus becomes again the man that he was in reality, a German who in a foreign land, through his German purity, brought order into a world that was then as deranged as the world of Bolshevism is today.”2

3The völkisch ideologues who denounced Christianity as ”oriental,” alien to the Germanic peoples, and a prime cause of their alleged degeneration and enfeeblement were thus participating in their way in a ”modernist” revolt against traditional religion. They differed from Nietzsche or Strindberg or Przybysczewski in that the struggle they wanted to lead was not between ”humanity” and a doctrine allegedly destructive of it, but – as was more in evidence in the case of Gurlitt and all too clear in the case of Roselius – between men and women of Germanic race and culture and what they charged was the corrupting influence of the religion of a foreign, utterly alien people on them. The völkisch concept of race was itself also ”modern,” moreover. Conceiving of race and culture in biological terms would have been impossible in a ”pre-scientific” age.

  • 3 Ernst Wachler, Über die Zukunft des deutschen Glaubens, 1930 ed., pp. 6-8, quoted in Uwe Puschner, (...)

4The völkisch attack on Christianity began early. In a booklet published in 1900 (republished in 1930), which one scholar has described as ”the protoype of all subsequent ’neo-pagan’ prophetic writings,” Ernst Wachler, the director of the völkisch Harzer Bergtheater, denounced Judaism and its offspring Christianity for having ”imposed a long night of ignorance and narrow-mindedness on the ancient world that lasted until the new dawn of the Renaissance” and for having had a no less ruinous influence on the Germanic world. ”To subject [that world], Christianity had to make it meek and sick. This task was accomplished over five centuries by the use of every instrument of force and persuasion. The foundations of the Germanic world were shattered. […] The normal course of development of our people was brought to a halt. […] Native belief and myth, poetry and morality, custom and law were destroyed or distorted and robbed of their creative energy. The natural feelings and views of youthful [Germanic] peoples were fettered by a distant power, the remnant of a late, alien culture. […] The world view of the medieval Catholic Church repressed nature and culture alike: the body was neglected, starved, and mistreated, bathing and swimming were despised; the perfect soul was sought in the anaemic, emaciated corpse.” Wachler’s account of the role of Christianity was confirmed by the influential Viennese poet, journalist and master of the occult, Guido von List. According to von List, the arrival of Christianity marked the end of a great Aryan high culture and brought in its train immigrants who adulterated the purity of the Germanic race.3

  • 4 Ernst Reuter, Schriften‚ Reden‚ ed. Hans E. Hirschfeld and Hans J. Reinhardt, 4 vols. (Berlin: Pro (...)
  • 5 Sigfrid oder Christus? Kampfruf an die germanischen Völker zur Jahrtausendwende (Leipzig‚ 1910)‚ q (...)
  • 6 Quoted in Coole and Potter, Thus Spake Germany, p. 6.
  • 7 Ernst Eberhardt-Humanus in Wilhelm Schwaner, Germanen-Bibel, 2nd edn, vol. 1, pp. xxx-xxxi.

5Otto Sigfrid Reuter, founder of the Deutsch-religiöse Gesellschaft (subsequently renamed Deutsch-gläubige Gesellschaft) in 1911 – and half­brother of the famous Social Democratic Berlin mayor Ernst Reuter, who described him in letters to an English friend in 1934 and 1937 as ”an old and faithful adherent of the Wotan-religion […] but always very kindly to me” (English in original) and as ”ein persönlich sehr anständiger Mann, aber ein ganz großer Wotan-Anbeter”4 [a very decent man personally, but a great Wotan worshipper] – held Christ responsible for undermining the Germans’ energy and capacity to act. ”The Nazarene wanted us to win victory through suffering and endurance,” he wrote. ”But our religion is that of the champion of light, who finds joy in action and fights his way to peace through victory. That is the language of Sigfrid.”5 A contributor to Wilhelm Schwaner’s Volkserzieher in 1910 warned that Christianity was a threat to the German national state: ”The neighborly love developed in the bosom of the Church has produced a truly poisonous effect on German nationhood. The Church taught that every human being is our neighbor and every neighbor our brother. […] It deliberately abolished the political demarcations between the nations. Its ideal is an international, undifferentiated, soft porridge of the faithful – an unhappy goal, murderous for every state.”6 In vol. 1 of Schwaner’s Germanen-Bibel (1904) the author of an introductory article argued that Christianity had brought Germany no good. On the contrary, with its otherworldliness, its doctrine of grace, and its emphasis on spirit and contempt for the flesh, it had encouraged irresponsibility and provoked the crassest sensuality as an inevitable reaction of the body to the denial of its physical nature.7

  • 8 Quoted from Aufsätze zum Germanenglauben (Leipzig, 1937), p. 7, in Claus Wolfschlag, Ludwig Fahren (...)
  • 9 Hieronimus, ”Zur Religiosität der völkischen Bewegung,” p. 172. On a visit to some well-heeled Lud (...)
  • 10 Oskar Michel, ”Wie lange noch,” Ringendes Deutschtum, 2 October 1921.
  • 11 Quoted in Puschner, ”Weltanschauung und Religion,” sec. 4. On Wolzogen, who had been associated wi (...)

6In similar vein, Schwaner’s associate in the founding of the Germanische Glaubensgemeinschaft, Ludwig Fahrenkrog, denounced the submissiveness, passivity, and repression of natural impulses required, according to him, by the Christian religion: ”We raise from the start the proud cry of our forefathers: ’Right, not Grace’ [...] That is Nordic! The right of the will to live. The right of the body: sun, air, strength, beauty, promptness to leap forward – openness of all the senses, work and rest and purity of blood! The right of the mind: to learn and to teach, to find and to seek, to invent and to recognize the highest and best! The right of the spirit: to speak with God in its own way, to follow the moral sense and the good in ourselves.”8 In the 1920s, the rabidly anti-Christian Mathilde von Ludendorff, wife of the famous World War I military commander accused ”the Jew Jesus” of having uprooted people from their race, their nation, and their customs and traditions through his pernicious universalist teachings.9 Another champion of the ”Germanic race” asserted that its degeneration began when Roman civilization and Christianity crossed the Alps, ”uprooted Germanness and bound it in a chain that led via Rome to Palestine.”10 Reflecting a popular reading of Nietzsche and Darwin, Ernst Ludwig Freiherr von Wolzogen branded Christianity in 1919 as ”the religion of the physically and mentally inferior.”11

  • 12 Zur Germanisierung des Christentums (1911), quoted in Hieronimus, ”Zur Religiosität der völkischen (...)
  • 13 Prince Hubertus zu Loewenstein, Conquest of the Past: An Autobiography, p. 160. On the popularity (...)
  • 14 ”Unser Ziel‚” Das Geistchristentum (1932)‚ 4: 329 f.‚ quoted in Rainer Flasche‚ ”Vom Deutschen Kai (...)
  • 15 Quoted in Hieronimus, ”Zur Religiosität der völkischen Bewegung,” p. 174.

7The advocates of a ”German” Christianity were no less critical of the Christianity represented by the churches, especially the Church of Rome, than the neo-pagans. To Arthur Bonus, writing in 1911, both the Christian virtue of humility and the doctrine of original sin were incompatible with the desired renewal of the German people.12 In rightwing student circles in Munich in the early 1920s, Hubertus, Prince zu Loewenstein, reports in his autobiography, it was held that ”the Church […] had always been in league with the Jew” and would have destroyed the wisdom of ”our ancestors” had not ”a means of expression been discovered that remained incomprehensible to the Church” – viz, the traditional German fairy tale, in which the ancient heritage was preserved in disguised form.13 In the early 1930s, Arthur Dinter, another passionate advocate of a Christianity purged of everything Jewish, charged that traditional ”Judeo-Christianity [had] poisoned us from the cradle on” and would have to be completely ”rooted out” if Germany was to be saved.14 In a text from the early 1930s Ernst Bergmann summed up the conflicted view of Christianity of the so-called Deutsche Christen. Christianity in Germany, he declared, is at the same time profoundly German, a product of the German spirit which has infused it with its own character, and a pernicious foreign influence responsible for Germany’s woes: ”The spirit of Germany is like a woman who was raped and made pregnant by a foreign plunderer. The mother bore the child amid tears. But she clasps it to her heart, despite its utterly alien features, for it is her child and Mother Germania shimmers somewhere in the depths of its blue eyes.”15

  • 16 Der Wahn vom völkischen Staat auf christlicher Grundlage [The Illusion of a Völkisch State on Chri (...)

8Even this slight concession to a ”German” Christianity was unacceptable, however, to convinced champions of a return to native Germanic ways and values. According to Alfred Conn, Christianity was simply incompatible not only with the native culture of the German volk, but with the entire doctrine, more and more widely accepted in völkisch circles, of the racial foundation of culture, the inseparable connection between a particular race or blood-group and its culture: ”Xristianity is foreign to our whole being. Its roots are in a completely different nature from ours. Xristianity does not accept that there are different human races. It denies the indissoluble bond linking the individual human being to his blood-determined group. It knows only the absolute equality of everything that wears a human countenance. Hence its impact has been to undermine the purity of the races. The assertion that there is one truth and one salvation for all humans presupposes the denial of blood-determined differences. […] In other words, whoever is a Xristian cannot desire a völkisch State based on blood and race, and whoever is völkisch cannot desire a Xristian state. Or: whoever is völkisch is not Xristian and whoever is Xristian is not völkisch.”16

Notes

1 Ludwig Gurlitt, ”Der Fluch der toten Religion,” Die Aktion, 1/8 (10 April 1911), col. 233-235 (233); see Joes Segal, Krieg als Erlösung: Die deutsche Kunstdebatten 1910-1918 (Munich: Scaneg, 1997), p. 33. According to George L. Mosse, Gurlitt repeated his critique of Christianity at a teachers’ meeting the following year (The Crisis of German Ideology, new edn. (New York: Schocken Books, 1981), pp. 154-55). For an excellent, still relevant overview of völkisch and National Socialist opposition to Christianity, see Edmond Vermeil, Hitler et le Christianisme (Paris: Gallimard, 1939).

2 Letter dated 18 September, 193, quoted in Arn Strohmeyer, ”Kunst im Zeichen der germanischen Vorfahren und der Wiedergeburt Deutschlands: Ludwig Roselius und Bernhard Hoetger,” p. 69. See also Elizabeth Tumasonis, ”Bernhard Hoetger’s Tree of Life,” pp. 89-90.

3 Ernst Wachler, Über die Zukunft des deutschen Glaubens, 1930 ed., pp. 6-8, quoted in Uwe Puschner, Die völkische Bewegung im wilhelminischen Kaiserreich, pp. 226-27; Die Armanenschaft der Ario-Germanen (Vienna, 1908), quoted in Sylvia Siewert, Germanische Religion und neugermanisches Heidentum, p. 146.

4 Ernst Reuter, Schriften‚ Reden‚ ed. Hans E. Hirschfeld and Hans J. Reinhardt, 4 vols. (Berlin: Propyläen Verlag‚ 1972-75)‚ vol. 1‚ p. 451‚ vol. 2‚ p. 486.

5 Sigfrid oder Christus? Kampfruf an die germanischen Völker zur Jahrtausendwende (Leipzig‚ 1910)‚ quoted in Stephanie von Schnurbein, ”Die Suche nach einer ’arteigenen’ Religion in ’germanisch’ – und ’deutschgläubigen’ Gruppen,” in Handbuch zur ”Völkischen Bewegung” 1871-1918‚ p. 180. The anti-heroic strain in Christianity was a common theme of anti-Christian writing; cf. the complaint by Wilhelm Kusserow‚ leader of the Nordisch-religiöse Arbeitsgemeinschaft that ”das Christentum verlangt die Zerknirschung und Beugung des stolzen Menschen. Es lehrt sogar die Feindesliebe” [Christianity demands remorse and submission from the proud-hearted man. It even teaches love of one’s enemies]. (Das nordische Artbekenntnis, 1934, quoted in Friedrich-Wilhelm Haack, Wotans Wiederkehr, p. 27). In 1935, according to Hermann Ullstein, the head of the great Berlin publishing house, ”in the centers of Berlin and Munich, certain shops displayed huge posters in the windows: Down with a Christ who allows himself to be crucified! The German God cannot be a suffering God! He is a God of power and strength!” The shops, Ullstein explains ”were the propaganda centers of General Ludendorff and his fanatical second wife, whose pamphlets attacking Christianity were on sale there.” (Hermann Ullstein, The Rise and Fall of the House of Ullstein [New York: Simon and Schuster, 1943], p. 282).

6 Quoted in Coole and Potter, Thus Spake Germany, p. 6.

7 Ernst Eberhardt-Humanus in Wilhelm Schwaner, Germanen-Bibel, 2nd edn, vol. 1, pp. xxx-xxxi.

8 Quoted from Aufsätze zum Germanenglauben (Leipzig, 1937), p. 7, in Claus Wolfschlag, Ludwig Fahrenkrog: Das goldene Tor (Dresden: Verlag Zeitenwende, 2006), pp. 14-15. A similar note was struck in a Christmas article in the official SS newspaper Das schwarze Korps on 22 December 1938: ”The religions of the world may well call themselves universal and preach what they call the one-ness of the Christian people, but the peoples of foreign blood have never properly understood the profound symbolism of Christmas. The Magi of the East today cast frightened glances in the direction of the bright flame that we are lighting on the nights of the Winter Solstice. This flame for us is not the flame of sacrifice; it is not the same old buried custom. This flame is for us the clear sign of life; it is God smiling over the earth, a God who has called his creation to life and not to death. The flame burns throughout the night. For us, this hour is not one of bewitched obscurity. This flame lighting up the starry vault is for us the symbol of the unity of nature and life. Day and night, body and soul‚ light and shade, all is comprehended in the eternal cycle of the fertility of Time. Watch over this flame, comrades, for fire, light, and sun are the most sacred of our possessions.” (Quoted in Frederic Reider, The Order of the SS [Tucson, AZ: Aztex Corporation, n.d.], p. 156).

9 Hieronimus, ”Zur Religiosität der völkischen Bewegung,” p. 172. On a visit to some well-heeled Ludendorff supporters in Hamburg in the mid-1920s, Hubertus, Prinz zu Loewenstein, heard his hosts assert that ”the Jews are rather overrated,” that ”nobody realizes how dangerous the Jesuits are,” and that the Jesuits‚ the Bolsheviks, and the Jews and Freemasons constitute three purely tactical subdivisions of a single force bent on the destruction of the German people. (Prince Hubertus zu Loewenstein, Conquest of the Past: An Autobiography [Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1938], pp. 189-92) Eighteen years later‚ with the National Socialists in power, Heinrich Himmler lumped Jews, Freemasons, Marxists, and the Churches together as enemies of Germany. The coming struggle, he warned in a speech to his SS Gruppenführer (8 November 1938)‚ will be not only a struggle among the nations‚ but a struggle of world-views, in which the whole ”Juden-‚ Freimaurer-, Marxisten- und Kirchentum” is aware that it must destroy Germany or be itself destroyed. (Heinrich Himmler: Geheimreden 1933 bis 1945‚ ed. Bradley F. Smith and Agnes Peterson, introd. Joachim Fest [Berlin: Propyläen Verlag‚ 1974]‚ p. 37)

10 Oskar Michel, ”Wie lange noch,” Ringendes Deutschtum, 2 October 1921.

11 Quoted in Puschner, ”Weltanschauung und Religion,” sec. 4. On Wolzogen, who had been associated with the Hart brothers and who, like the Princess (though in a lighter‚ more satirical mode)‚ was a rebel from his class‚ see Amelia von Ende‚ ”A representative ’Young German’: Ernst Freiherr von Wolzogen,” New York Times, book review section, 7 January 1911. Wolzogen’s step-brother Hans, a well known Wagnerite and editor of the Bayreuther Blätter, followed in the footsteps of his master by seeking to detach Christianity from its Jewish roots. He invited Franz Overbeck, Nietzsche’s theologian friend and colleague in Basel, to contribute to a special issue of the journal on the topic ”Entjudung des Christentums” [Dejudaising of Christianity]‚ but was rebuffed. From the start the theme was unacceptable to him‚ Overbeck replied. ”I do not believe in Schopenhauer’s interpretation of Christianity [i.e. that it was closer to Buddhism than to Judaism - L.G.] even though I acknowledge that he had a keen eye for a certain element in it [...]. But the historical explanation offered by Schopenhauer is completely false and the consequences of his errors are particularly visible in some of Wagner’s ideas, ”for example his questioning of Jesus’s Jewish descent.” He and Rohde ”and probably Nietzsche too” had clearly discerned the weakness of Schopenhauer’s argument about a family connection between Christianity and Buddhism and the resulting ”misconstruing of the family connection of Christianity and Judaism.” (See Andreas Urs Sommer, ”Weltentsagung‚ Skepsis und Modernitätskritik: Arthur Schopenhauer und Franz Overbeck‚” Philosophisches Jahrbuch‚ 107 [2000]: 192-205, on pp. 202-03).

12 Zur Germanisierung des Christentums (1911), quoted in Hieronimus, ”Zur Religiosität der völkischen Bewegung,” p. 164.

13 Prince Hubertus zu Loewenstein, Conquest of the Past: An Autobiography, p. 160. On the popularity among völkisch writers of the idea that Germanic fairytales‚ folktales, and ancient sagas served as a sanctuary in which the ancient wisdom and religious worldview of the Nordic peoples was preserved for centuries from the destructive attacks of an alien, ”Judaic” Christianity‚ see Puschner‚ Die völkische Bewegung im wilhelminischen Kaiserreich, pp. 228-30.

14 ”Unser Ziel‚” Das Geistchristentum (1932)‚ 4: 329 f.‚ quoted in Rainer Flasche‚ ”Vom Deutschen Kaiserreich zum Dritten Reich: Nationalreligiöse Bewegungen in der ersten Hälfte des 20. Jahrhunderts in Deutschland,” p. 44.

15 Quoted in Hieronimus, ”Zur Religiosität der völkischen Bewegung,” p. 174.

16 Der Wahn vom völkischen Staat auf christlicher Grundlage [The Illusion of a Völkisch State on Christian Foundations] (1928)‚ quoted in Puschner, ”Weltanschauung und Religion,” p. 23. In one of the conversations recorded by his doctor Felix Kersten, Himmler expressed a similar view of the incompatibility of authentic German-ness and Christianity. ”The Church had a great interest in preventing the formation of a true Germanic type, for she had need of the inferior racial type, the only one ready to accept her teaching. The real hundred-per-cent German‚ on the other hand, was the born enemy of clerical doctrine.” (The Kersten Memoirs 1940-1945, pp. 78-79) Likewise, the peasant-soldiers of Germanic race who will be settled in the conquered territories of the East will soon abandon the Church. ”The more our training takes root and men become infused with our spirit, the less will they depend on the churches – and one day they will be empty. […] It will be a particular satisfaction to me when we take over these churches and turn them into Germanic holy places.” (ibid.‚ p. 136)

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